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Mike Rutherford Interview 2017 and Mechanics show report

Mike + The Mechanics live 2017 / Interview

Mike Rutherford interviewed by GNC - and a concert report

Life is not easy for musicians from the Genesis fold. Their fans can pick from a plethora of former members of Genesis who still make music. They are chronically discontent and, unlike the musicians themselves, they do not seem to grow older (or up, for that matter). Mike Rutherford is currently enjoying something like his fourth or fifth spring. After what seems like the end of Genesis and the relaunch of the Mechanics he seems to have entered into a kind of contest with Steve Hackett to see who tours more. This year also saw the release of his new album Let Me Fly. So there is much reason to attend the Dresden show and combine it with an interview.
There have been numerous interviews with Mike in recent years. In 2012, we were backstage before and after the show in Dresden, and spent a lot of time interviewing everybody. At the Alter Schlachthof, things were different this time. Time was short, and we had barely twelve minutes for the interview. Since Mike is not the kind of person to give long meandering answers we still felt that we got most questions answered. He was in a good mood already during the soundcheck, but there was one nagging question:

Mike Rutherford InterviewHow long is he going to want to do this, and does he enjoy being on tour? „Well, we did five shows in five countries in seven days, including this one“, Mike takes a deep breath, „that's a bit exhausting, I feel a bit tired. But it's okay, I like being on the road. But it's better to be in the same area, not travelling too much“. That's understandable, but how long…? „as long as it's fun I'll do it“. Alright, so we can still expect many things. Does it bother him that some musicians from his generation have passed on already? „You can't be bothered, I don't think about that too much. I read somewhere that I am the only remaining bass guitarist from the old prog bands. Jack Bruce, Greg Lake, Chris Squire and others are dead, but I just carry on. Let's see how far it goes“
Mike seems very fit, though life on tour must be very stressful. With his Mechanics, he has recovered something important – the pure joy in playing. The band takes the stage after an entertaining support act and start like a race car with Are You Ready. Tim Howar's voice seems to be a bit under the weather, yet he goes all out and immediately captivates the capacity crowd of 1,000 at the Alter Schlachthof. The band plays a whopping six songs from their new album Let Me Fly on this tour. When we express our delight about this in the interview, Mike intervenes: „Well, we've dropped Save The World last night, so it's five. The show was a bit too long and now it's 100 or 105 minutes, which is better“, he says and I frown. There is a not so small number of fans that find the Mechanics shows some twenty minutes too short. The length of the shows has been discussed before in previous interviews.

Back to the show where the band continues with a classic: Another Cup Of Coffee gets the first people from the seats. Get Up has become a fine live classic. The band has remained the same in the last year, with no changes except for the drummer's position. This time it is Steve Barney who stands in for the Mechanics' regular drummer Gary Wallis, whose calendar keeps clashing with the Mechanics' tour plan. The band is in great shape, though. Their joy of playing transfers to the audience. Small wonder that one of the biggest Mechanics classics, 32-year-old Silent Running, causes ecstasy in the audience. Next up is The Best Is Yet To Come, the second single from Let Me Fly. I ask Mike how he distributed the work load between his two singers. After all, Roachford can be heard more often than Tim Howar on Let Me Fly. Mike finds that “it feels nearly equal, but perhaps it's because I write a lot of stuff with Andrew. On the other hand, the tracks that Tim sings on this album are really important tracks“.

Mechanics liveThe introduction of the next song in the show is enjoyable. Asks Mike: „Andrew, what was the name of your school band?“. Replies Andrew: „Well, it was called The School Band. But what was the name of your school band?“ Says Mike: „My school band was called Genesis“. Nitpickers may want to correct this to The Anon, but it is a good trick nevertheless. Land Of Confusion follows, Tim sings, and the audience are ecstatic once more. What follows is an important and extraordinary track from Let Me Fly. High Life is something like the hidden treasure on Let Me Fly. It seems different, and it came about in a slightly bizarre way – in the hotel room after the Leipzig show in 2016. I knew this and asked Mike about the song. I told him the riff sounds a bit like Invisible Touch. Mike's facial expression at that moment is priceless. „I never had this connection, actually …“, he considers the idea, „yeah could be, it has that sort of feel, interesting“. Okay, so how come the song was recorded in a hotel room? „we had to finish some tracks for the record last year and we were on tour in Germany. I felt a bit stressed to be on the road and having to finish the tracks. So we were in Leipzig and I had a little computer and plug in box, we recorded the guitar parts and most of the lead vocals in room 701“.
Mike pauses. It is obvious that the perfectionist in him wants to add something: „with High Life, I still think we could have done it better. Ed Drewitt is involved in this one, he did quite a few tracks for One Direction, he's a good writer. But still that's one of the songs I'm not sure we made the best out of it“.
Mike has always kept away from the selection of songs for the singles. The songs chosen from Let Me Fly have been (so far) Don't Know What Came Over Me, which is not played live except for the Berlin show on 2nd October 2017 (Arte broadcast in Germany), The Best Is Yet To Come and the title track, Let Me Fly. Does he still keep out of the selection process, or does he get involved these days? „I don't agree with them very often, but there's no point in me choosing singles. In England they really played the album to death on the radio and the last single was the title track which surprised me as they struggle with slow songs these days. I leave it up to them.“
High Life liveHigh Life is presented in an interesting version, almost like an unplugged version. So is Wonder, where Andrew Roachford sings again. Let Me Fly continues the electric part. It is apparent that the new songs are very popular with the audience. Is Mike happy with how Let Me Fly has been received? “Yes, indeed, it really did well in the UK but also elsewhere. I mean okay, you don't sell that many records anymore, unless you are Ed Sheeran or Rihanna. But the airplay we get and the reception live are fantastic.“
Mike has worked with many musicians on Let Me Fly. A whole bunch of them seem to be new, but „it's just two new people“, Mike insists. How does he get all the musicians involved?

"There's an old friend of mine, called Brian Rawling, he also recommended Tim and Andrew. He is part of the production team and he helped on this album to kind of help to choose songs and outside ideas. He is asking questions, that's good. And he recommended Clark Datchler and later also Ed Drewitt“.
How may we imagine the creation of the album? Did they write 20 or 30 songs again?

„We worked completely differently this time. Instead of writing 20 songs and record them all, we did 4 or 5 songs really good. We raised the bar for the writing. We didn't record a note, until we felt the writing was great, we changed choruses, lyrics etc. We kind of went back to the first album which was based on my demos I did at home with the guitar, bass pedals, synths and drum loops and a guide voice. And that became a song."

How does he write his songs these days? Does he start with an idea for a riff, a melody, a drumloop?

„That's all different, it all starts with a drum thing, then a bit guitar and synths, which I play too. That's the starting point, then someone comes in and we take it from there. Could be a lyric idea or something else. It's not finished songs at this point, only sections.“

Interview with MikeAll in all it is a kind of abstract, but interesting group effort. Can he imagine doing it all in jam sessions like they used to do it in Genesis for their later albums? „No, it's different. With Genesis we were three in a room and knew what to do, with the Mechanics it's a far bigger choice of people and I like that.“
As a musician, Mike has built his reputation mainly as a bass player. Does he still play much bass? "Well, you can't play bass on your own, you play bass when you put the album down, record the songs and on tour, obviously. Bass is very important, there's one song, Don't Know What Came Over Me, on the album, and it was dying a death, it wasn't working, then I put the bass on it and it came back, something happened."

The album is extremely well-produced, and it seems they mainly used drum computers. Which did he use more often, real drums or drum computers? „It was a lot of drum programming which I did, more of that nature. There's a character to it that I like.“
Is it because it's difficult to get a drummer into the studio? „No, we recorded the album in my studio and Gary Wallis is a drummer and a great friend, but it sounds a little quirkier with drum loops and the bass sound.“
Mike's son Harry has been involved in the making of the previous as well as your current album Let Me Fly. What is his job description? „He really helped in the early stages of the album, also writing stuff". Harry has also been working with other musicians.

During the show they play five songs from the new album. How did they choose them? Wouldn't The Letter have been an obvious choice? "Well we have always rehearsed that, but we never played it, don't know why actually"

Re-focus on the show. The short „new songs“ part of the live show is followed by a smash hit where Tim Howar pays homage to the late Paul Young, who sang on the original version. A Beggar On A Beach Of Gold still works perfectly after twenty-two years. It is proof, if proof were needed, that the Mechanics have always written elegant pop songs. It also shows what they can really do only as a live band. Wouldn't it be time for a live album? „No one has asked us really“ In which case we are happy to oblige: A live album, please? „Ok, would be nice. we will do filmings in Berlin. A show on 2nd October will be filmed for Arte television“.

A Roachford song follows, and it usually is Cuddly Toy. There is some banter, some playful interaction between the audience and the band (regulars will be familiar with it). And then they play I Can't Dance, and it begs the question whether this song really fits into the set. The audience are positive it does. Inevitably, our interview also touches on the subject of Genesis. Do they have any plans for the band's 50th anniversary? "We've got a five year window. Nothing is planned, but we are all friends.”

Wait and see it is, then. On the subject of anniversaries – Calling All Stations, the band's last album, has recently celebrated its 20th. If you re-examine it, Mike, which song is the high point of the album? "The title track, but I also like Shipwrecked a lot."

After I Can't Dance, the band play their classic songs Over My Shoulder and All I Need Is A Miracle at the end of the regular set. We have been very enjoyably entertained for almost one and a half hours. The audience are on their feet – no one is sitting anymore. When the band is introduced Mike does the honours himself. Luke Juby is introduced as the “best-looking keyboard player”, Anthony Drennan as the “second best guitarist on stage”, and Steve Barney is “the best drummer we could find in his price range”. Mike has obviously lost none of his good humour.

Mike Rutherford interviewBack to the interview before we come to the encores. Has Mike ever considered re-releasing his solo albums? "Never been around to it“, is his brief answer. It is obviously not a priority, though I permit ourselves to point out that there is, in fact, some interest in the material. I also wanted to know how, if at all, writing song-lyrics is different from penning one's memoirs. "It's a different process, It was a hard job, but a nice experience", says Mike. Looking at Phil's book [Not Dead Yet], Mike adds: "He treated me fairly, I like his book, but gets quite dark towards the end“.

Another band mate from early Genesis days used to be his most important co-writer. Has he ever thought about working with Ant again? After all, he has always described their relationship as something special. "I just haven't got time, but that also sounds awful, doesn't it? I'm just very busy recently. We are still friends and see each other".

How about other projects? Anything going outside the Mechanics? "No, it's mainly Mechanics, some writing, playing live, shows in North America, maybe a new project for next year, we'll see how that goes".

Back on the stage, Roachford intones The Living Years – probably the biggest hit the band has ever had. This is Roachford's masterpiece, and the venue turns pleasantly quiet. Which changes immediately when Word Of Mouth begins. The song has become the ultimate party hit, and each musician uses his opportunity for a solo. These solos differ from show to show. Mike, for example, has sometimes payed homage to Jimi Hendrix. Ears perk up in the audience when Anthony Drennan suddenly launches himself into Firth Of Fifth. A lovely bow to Mike's former band. Drennan used to play the solo back in 1998 on the Calling All Stations tour. After some 100 minutes the show is over and the audience leave after a great evening.

The Mechanics have been touring for years, and, luckily, there is no end in sight. But then, why would there? The band work great together, audiences have a great time and there have been two new studio albums. Good reasons to keep going. At this level, we hope they do. Oh right, Mike, another question – what do you think about the Brexit? "It's ridiculous. It's so stupid, I couldn't believe it. I remember back in the days when we had all the customs stuff at borders when we were on tour. Unbelievable. If you had a vote again now, it would be different."

Questions, report and transcript by Christian Gerhardts
English by Martin Klinkhardt
Photos by Ina Schneider and Carsten Hickmann
Setlist from the Mechanics show in Dresden, September 8, 2017

Are You Ready
Another Cup of Coffee
Get Up
Silent Running
The Best Is Yet to Come
Land of Confusion
High Life
Let Me Fly
A Beggar on a Beach of Gold
Cuddly Toy
I Can't Dance
Over My Shoulder
All I Need Is a Miracle

The Living Years
Word of Mouth

MIKE + THE MECHANICS live in Berlin, 2.10.2017